Workplace Neurodiversity Is Not Just White Collar

This help wanted sign illustrates that we should not just think about white collar jobs when we hire the neurodiverse.

One of the challenges faced by many neurodivergent people is finding employment. Neurodivergent individuals often come across as different which can be apparent in a job interview. There is a growing trend for organizations to make special efforts to employ neurodivergent individuals. Much of it is focused on people who are on the autism spectrum who might do well at repetitive white collar work that requires attention, most notably in information technologies. A couple of weeks ago I saw interview with Danny Combs on NewsNation about a new initiative. In Colorado, he co-founded the Colorado Neurodiversity Chamber of Commerce to increase the hiring of neurodivergent individuals by partnering with employers and helping them figure out successful strategies. One strategy is to think broadly about the sorts of jobs that might be relevant because workplace neurodiversity is not just white collar.

Employment Challenges for Neurodivergent Job Seekers

Neurodiversity encompasses a variety of cognitive conditions, some considered disorders, that describe individuals whose mode of thinking is different from most people. Included is the autism spectrum, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), and learning disabilities. Each of these conditions can create their own challenges when it comes to achieving and retaining employment. Unemployment rates for the neurodivergent can be several times higher than the general population. Special efforts are needed to not only prepare them for the workforce, but to prepare organizations by showing them how to hire and retain neurodivergent talent.

Workplace Neurodiversity Is Not Just White Collar

There is a tendency for many of us who write about the workplace to focus mainly on white collar occupations. What often is overlooked are blue collar skilled trades, like carpenters, electricians, plumbers, and welders. These are essential occupations that require a high level of expertise that can exceed that of many white collar jobs. Not only do trades-people have knowledge, they also have manual skills in using machines and tools. Many of the companies that are mentioned as leaders in workplace neurodiversity are hiring autistic individuals to perform white collar jobs, for example, in the information technology sector. An exception is a the TACT organization in Colorado that specializes in training autistic individuals for a trade. For individuals who might struggle with communication skills, such occupations that focus on things rather than people can be a good fit.

Matching People to Jobs

There are three important concepts when it comes to optimizing a hiring system.

  • KSAO: The qualities that people need to perform tasks for a job include knowledge (what they understand about the tasks), skill (how well they can perform tasks), ability (the potential to learn), and other characteristics (e.g., attitudes, personality, and values). They can be assessed as requirements of the job, for example, a job requires knowledge of electrical circuits for an electrician. They can be measured in job applicants, often with a pre-employment assessment.
  • Job Relevance: Hiring the best talent begins by identifying the KSAOs for a job and then assessing them in applicants. Hiring is job relevant if it matches KSAOs of people to jobs. Such as approach reduces subjective bias that can be introduced when hiring managers base decisions on intuition after interviewing candidates rather than on looking for the best KSAO match.
  • Reasonable Accommodation: This concept from the Americans with Disabilities Act says that organizations should be flexible and willing to make small accommodations for individuals who might need them. Taking a flexible approach to the KSAO combinations that define particular positions can often allow for the hiring of someone who does not check every box. Thus someone with a particular strength in the most important aspects of job might make a high performer on a job despite a weakness in a KSAO for a task that is not really necessary for the position.

An optimized hiring system is that focuses on matching people to jobs according to talents will reduce some of the barriers to hiring the neurodivergent. A focus on what a person knows and can do can help overcome subjective biases that so often drive hiring decisions.

Photo by Tim Mossholder from Pexels

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